Easy ways to fight pandemic-era inactivity

For many people, the effects of the pandemic include less physical activity. But long periods of sitting are bad for health. They’re associated with increased risks for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of health conditions that include abdominal obesity, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar). Too much sitting is even linked to an early death. The good news: staying active throughout the day helps reverse the effects of too much sitting.

Doctor’s orders

“Take a two-, five-, or 10-minute break at least once per hour,” advises Dr. Beth Frates, director of wellness programming for the Stroke Research and Recovery Institute at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

What should you do during an activity break? Dr. Frates says it could be anything that gets you out of your chair. One thing it shouldn’t be: a chore you dislike. “These breaks should be joyful, should generate the feeling that this is a good thing, so you’ll be motivated to do it again,” Dr. Frates explains.

You can achieve that motivation by choosing activities that interest you. Even better, do something that also benefits your mental or emotional well-being, such as being mindful during physical activity or spending time outside if you can.

Other tips that will help:

  • Set timers or apps that remind you when to take a break and how long to stay active.
  • Keep a log of your breaks and what you did for each one.
  • If possible, get a buddy to share your break, which will help hold you accountable.
  • Gradually push yourself to move a little more in each break.

Easy two-minute breaks

A two-minute break is all it takes to interrupt the unhealthy physiological processes percolating while you sit. Dr. Frates suggests this easy one: “Get out of your chair, stand up, and breathe deeply. Release tension and focus on happy thoughts.” As you get used to taking breaks every hour, make them progressively more demanding, like the following examples.

Hop to it for hydration. Walk briskly or skip to the kitchen to fix yourself a cool glass of water with fresh fruit.

Dance. Play a bouncy song that makes you happy, step side to side, and put your arms in the air.

Try hula-hooping. “It takes practice, but it’s fun, you’ll laugh, and you’ll break a sweat the longer you can do it,” Dr. Frates says.

Work a muscle group. Start at the top and work your way down. For example, at 10 a.m., work your shoulders by squeezing your shoulder blades together, holding a few seconds, and releasing; repeat to fill your two-minute break. At 11 a.m., work your abdominal and leg muscles with sit-to-stands (standing up and sitting down repeatedly); at noon, work your arm and chest muscles by doing wall push-ups. Keep going with leg lifts at 1 p.m., wall squats at 2 p.m., and calf raises (rocking up on your toes for a moment) at 3 p.m.

Climb stairs. Go up and down the stairs at least twice — slowly the first time and faster the next. Can you squeeze in a third trip?

Five-minute breaks

Five minutes gives you time to accomplish more involved activities.

Go on a mini hike. “Walk all the way around the outside of your house,” Dr. Frates suggests. “Note how the leaves have changed and how the air smells. Breathing in nature enhances a sense of well-being.”

Stretch. “Your back and neck muscles may be tight from sitting. Stretch to ease tension and release ‘feel-good chemicals,’ and to improve your posture,” Dr. Frates says. To stretch your back: Lie on the floor facing the ceiling, pull both knees to your chest, and hold the position for 60 seconds. Don’t rush yourself; feel the stretch, then rest and repeat. To stretch your neck: Sit up straight, face forward, and bend your head slowly to the side. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on the other side.

Complete household tasks. Don’t think of this as work; it’s an activity break, so do as many tasks as you can in five minutes — gather laundry and put it in the washer, vacuum or dust a room, take out the trash. “They’re simple things, but if you do them quickly and mindfully, they’ll get you moving, reset your focus, and make you feel good for being productive,” Dr. Frates says.

Ten-minute breaks

Dr. Frates says the best way to get the most out of a lengthy activity break is with a brisk walk outside (walking your dog is a great 10-minute break) or a video designed specifically for a mini workout. “That way, you won’t have to think about what to do next, and you’ll save time,” she points out.

Try calisthenics, tai chi, yoga, or dance. You’ll find lots of videos online, especially on YouTube. For example, try the search term “10-minute workout for older adults.”

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Acts 4:18-31 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”     

2 Chronicles 25:19 “You said, ‘Behold, you have defeated Edom.’ And your heart has become proud in boasting. Now stay at home; for why should you provoke trouble so that you, even you, would fall and Judah with you?”

1 Samuel 2:3 “Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the LORD is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.

Micah 2:3 Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am planning against this family a calamity From which you cannot remove your necks; And you will not walk haughtily, For it will be an evil time.

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